A Culture of Fear Embodied: Do Gendered Patterns of Fear and Avoidance Contribute to Gender Disparities in Mental Health?

Catherine Harnois, Wake Forest University
João Luiz Dornelles Bastos, University of Santa Catarina
Renee Luthra , University of Essex
Alita Nandi, University of Essex

This study examines the extent to which experiences of fear, and the associated coping strategy of avoidance behavior, contribute to gender disparities in mental health. Analyzing data from the first wave (2009-2010) of Understanding Society (UKHLS), we ask: (1) To what extent does gender shape the likelihood of experiencing fear, and of engaging in avoidance behavior? (2) How and to what extent are fear and avoidance associated with men’s and women’s mental health? and (3) To what extent do experiences of fear and avoidance behavior help account for the disparity in men’s and women’s mental health? Our results also show that feelings of fear are significantly associated with poor (self-assessed) mental health, and explain 17% of the gender gap in mental health. These results underscore the importance of attending to socially constructed emotion norms in health research, as well as in efforts to address gender inequality.

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 Presented in Session 5. Health & Mortality 1